Holidays tend to be a special time when family gets together and magical characters (like Santa) appear. Many parents had hopes and dreams of what the holidays would look like when they started a family. Maybe it included everyone getting along, a beautifully decorated tree, appreciative kids opening gifts. Perhaps your child is old enough to be excited about the holiday cheer and all your holiday hopes seem within reach....when reality happens: your toddler is freaking out!
3 things to keep in mind this holiday season with toddlers:
1. Toddlers are amazing feelers. They express unrestrained joy and sadness with equal intensity. All of these holiday rituals are new, intense, and stimulating events for their little bodies and brains. They may be surrounded by family members, off schedule and full of sugar, and have a lot of new, exciting items that their brains will think to climb, play with, and destroy. In experiencing their pure joy, you will also witness the crash (which may lead you to believe that your child has been replaced by a monster).
a. Tip: Add some down/quiet time before and after the ‘main events’ to help give their little brains time to recharge, helping minimize the intensity of the crash.
b. Tip: Try to keep to schedules and routines as much as possible in a new environment.
2. Your feelings matter, too! Your dreams of a perfect holiday may be influencing your feelings around the holiday time. There isn’t a way for your toddler’s brain to understand how much time, love, and effort you put into a magical experience, which can be infuriating if things all go wrong.
a. Tip: Take time for yourself so you can recharge and have space to feel all your feelings. Holidays also tend to bring up feelings of loss that may impact your ability to respond to the toddler monster. Maybe it is disappointment from when you were a kid or grief from the loss of a loved one with whom you used to enjoy this holiday time. When you are experiencing some big feelings it can be harder to respond patiently to a toddler meltdown.
b. Tip: Talk to your partner/family about supporting you in ways that will fill you up if your toddler drains you. This may include stating/showing their appreciation on all the work you have done or taking your child so you can get a break.
3. Create your own traditions that work for all of you. This may or may not look like what is portrayed in our popular culture, and that’s ok. Breakable ornaments and shiny lights may be torture for your toddler (and therefore you) and not joyful. Try making your environment work for all of you and find the connection and laughter if it all goes wrong. You are learning how to be a parent and that will always be a journey; you’re not supposed to get it right all the time.
a. Tip: Read my article, Sometimes Getting it Wrong is Getting it Right, in case you lose it with your toddler.
b. Tip: Talk to your partner/family about your intentions and goals for the holiday season and reflect if your actions and environment are in line with your intentions.
Remember that toddlers will tend to express their negative emotions and experiences more often with their primary caretakers. It means you’re doing a good job making them feel safe enough to express how they feel. So if they do well with the grandparents and are monsters with you, just remind yourself it means you’re an AWESOME parent and they trust you can handle it.